shrines

In August I noticed something mildly alarming as I walked around my home. Everywhere I look there is some small shrine to Jack — some of her art, some of the things she loved, and some of the things that remind me of the best of times with her. That wasn’t alarming; that just seems like a normal part of the grieving process. What was alarming was the realization I had finally that all of these were ephemeral in some sense. They were permanent physical things, of course, but each could — and probably would — eventually be moved, stored, or discarded. Each of these things, each of these subconscious attempts to preserve memory (since we all have to acknowledge that the memory in our brains is feeble and unreliable) probably would at some time disappear from my home.

One response to this would be to simply not do that — preserve those shrines forever. Or at least some of them. But which to remove? And how does that piecemeal removal not eventually end in the total removal of all of them? Is that desirable?

I decided that it was not, that in some way they had to be preserved. But how to make something genuinely permanent, at least in the space of your own life? What can you do to guarantee that these images are forever accessible, not subject to the vagaries of storage needs, re-decorating, the desires of others (and we have to admit that there may be others with their own needs), and the unhappy happenstance of digital storage failure?

So it was in September that I had an image I drew in memory of Jack, an image full of tiny symbolisms, tattooed on my arm.

SAILOR MOUTH is an inside joke, mostly between her and I. She was uncomfortable not swearing and she loved Sailor Moon, so when she asked me which sailor scout best suited her I told her that we needed a new one, Sailor Mouth. This delighted her. I could go into detail about the symbols but those that are obvious are already yours and the rest are mine.

Recently, however, I decided that I wanted more ink there and something from the mind of the artist that executed my idea here (that’s my drawing, faithfully reproduced by this artist). And so I decided I’d buy Jack some flowers.

Often tattooed flowers are idealized and perfect and this was not what I wanted. Jack loved tulips, but the perfect just-opening bud of a vased tulip was too pristine, too virginal. And so I asked the artist to make me something with her favourite flowers in the next stage — acknowledging age, decay, and the sensual fecundity of this floral opening. I wanted the flowers to symbolize a life lived and not just pretty flowers. I suggested also a sunflower — Jack would literally squee when I brought sunflowers home. And so a short while ago, after some exchange of ideas and sketches, I had this added.

That’s fresh from under the needle. I think she caught the last stages of cut tulips perfectly.

So now I am my own shrine.

I may add colour, more detail, extend the play of leaves and blooms further around my shoulder, my back, my chest. I don’t know. The process is very therapeutic and the permanence finally feels appropriate — I often thought I wanted a tattoo but I felt that my indecision about what image to add (and as I think about my tentative ideas from the past I am glad now that I didn’t) was ample evidence that I shouldn’t get one. That has changed.

There’s a strange intimacy to getting tattooed and in this time of isolation both from outside (the plague) and inside (the grief) it’s very welcome to be handled gently by someone, to be guided through the process. People say the pain is also therapeutic but I don’t think that’s part of it for me, though there’s an undeniable endorphin rush. It’s the detached intimacy of letting someone modify my body. Of the trust you place in a professional artist.

The touch, the sting, the permanence of my new shrine, these things matter right now. And it did not seem like the time to be shy about it. No ankle butterfly for me.

Jack always wanted me to get a tattoo with her. I guess I finally did, though I have to misinterpret her syntax.

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